Jason Marquis hurls shutout for Nationals

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Yes, that Jason Marquis.

After going 2-9 with a 6.60 ERA in the first year of his two-year, $15 million contract with the Nationals, Marquis has opened 2011 with a bang, turning in five straight quality starts on his way to a 3-0 record.  His ERA stands at 2.71.

Tonight’s win was the most impressive of the bench, as he outdueled Tim Lincecum and pitched his fourth career shutout against the defending world champion Giants.  He struck out seven and walked none in the crisp 96-pitch outing.

Earlier this month, he fanned nine in six innings against the Mets, his high strikeout total since way back in 2004.

The Nationals still might not be going anywhere this year, but if this keeps up, Marquis is going to be an awfully nice piece of trade bait at the deadline.  No, he’s not someone any team will want starting Game 1 of a postseason series, but since it looks like last year’s elbow problems are completely in the past, he’s a nice innings eater.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉